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Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1936)

Courtesy of Euro London Films Ltd

Main image of Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1936)
DirectorGeorge King
Production CompanyGeorge King Productions
ProducerGeorge King
ScriptFrederick Hayward
 H.F. Maltby
Original playGeorge Dibdin-Pitt
PhotographyJack Parker

Cast: Tod Slaughter (Sweeney Todd); Bruce Seton (Mark Ingestre); Eve Lister (Johanna Oakley); Stella Vitelleschi (Mrs Lovatt); Ben Soutten (Beadle)

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Sweeney Todd, a barber who murders his clients for their money, is attracted to the daughter of a rich businessman. When he discovers she is in love with a poor sailor, Todd sets out to break them up and win her for himself.

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Sweeney Todd (1936) was produced at Shepperton studios, which, although only four years old, had attracted a reputation as one of the leading studios for the production of 'quota quickies', and was recognised for the unusual freedom it offered to the filmmakers who worked there.

George King, the film's producer and director, leapt at the opportunities that Shepperton provided, and soon became known as the 'king of [quota] quickies'. But it was the lead actor, Tod Slaughter, who was the main draw to the picture, and whose personality drove the narrative onwards.

What Slaughter presented to the public was a version of England's past, whose morals and ideology were rooted in the nineteenth century. His achievement with Sweeney Todd was to draw parallels between this Victoriana and the contemporary society of 1930s Britain.

This is established by the framing story of a man going to a barbershop in modern day Fleet Street, only to be told by the barber that he is on the site of where Sweeney Todd's nefarious activities took place 100 years ago. What follows is the story as told to the customer, who, at the end, flees the shop in fright.

Unlike Hammer, which used Victorian locales to criticise the society of modern Britain, Slaughter's films looked back nostalgically on these traditional values, and restricted their criticism to their villains, perfectly encapsulated by Slaughter's rasping voice and devilish demeanour.

Nonetheless, they still managed to relate this critique to the corruptive power of money (in this film, Todd kills his customers for the treasures they have brought back from their seafaring activities), a theme that would have been particularly pertinent in the economic depression of the 1930s.

Paul Moody

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Video Clips
1. Money (4:14)
2. A business arrangement (4:11)
3. A monstrous bargain (1:52)
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